NCCU’s Wilkins — this Eagle can fly

Sep. 01, 2014 @ 08:07 PM

If ever a guy’s reputation preceded him, it’s the one belonging to N.C. Central return man Adrian Wilkins.

He’s so good that his less-than-spectacular showing during the team’s first fall scrimmage appeared to be a non-issue for first-year NCCU coach Jerry Mack.

“We know what Adrian can do,” Mack said.

The things that young man did last season after catching kicks were, well, the best in the Football Championship Subdivision.

After earning spots on several All-America teams a year ago, Wilkins, a redshirt junior from Forest City, begins this campaign as a preseason all-Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference pick. He was all-league in 2013 when he was the College Football Performance Awards Football Championship Subdivision National Return Specialist of the Year after scoring five touchdowns on special teams, more than any other FCS player.

Wilkins said he can do more, particularly on offense as a wide receiver.

Last season, Wilkins was NCCU’s leading pass catcher with 37 grabs for 427 yards. While he was all-MEAC as a return man, he said he can be an all-league receiver, too.

“Last year, it was just all special teams. I’m trying to do special teams and receiver this year,” Wilkins said.

On Saturday in NCCU's season opener at East Carolina, Wilkins led the Eagles in receiving with four catches for 58 yards. One of those grabs was for 42 yards.

Wilkins said his off-season included a focus on route running. Mack said Wilkins has been getting in more reps at the receiver position, and his hands are better.

The guy is a beast, Mack said.

“The proof is in the pudding,” Mack said.

Wilkins (5-8, 170) is on the smaller side, but he could play on Sundays, Mack said.

The NFL certainly is the end game, Wilkins said.

“That’s been my goal. That’s what I want to do. That’s why I’m in college,” Wilkins said.

Mack got raw with Wilkins during spring drills in April. The Eagles were practicing at Rocky Mount High School, showing love to their fans in Eastern North Carolina.

As Wilkins tends to do, he made a big play, yet followed it with some uncharacteristic showboating.

Mack wasn’t having that. He benched Wilkins for the remainder of the practice, a move that caught the eye of NCCU redshirt senior defensive lineman Ty Bown: There was Wilkins, who the previous season had more all-purpose yards (123.5 yards per game) than anybody in the MEAC, and Mack could not have cared less.

“It just showed me that nobody is bigger than the team,” Brown said.

The sort of boasting Wilkins did on the practice field could cost the Eagles a sizable chunk of yardage during a critical moment in a real game, said Mack, explaining the benching.

“You can’t let that passion get the best of you,” Mack said.

Mack was right, Wilkins said.

“It didn’t mess with my mind, because I knew what he was doing, and I knew I made a mistake,” Wilkins said.

Wilkins said he got out of character because some of the guys on defense were playing dirty. He said he got too amped when he made them pay.

Mack said Wilkins has been a better teammate since then.

“You could just notice a difference and a change in his detail and his sense of urgency,” Mack said.

It could mean bad news for the rest of the MEAC.